Thursday, August 25, 2011

Hurricanes in NYC and You

     Here we go our second possible disaster of the week, right on schedule.  I guess the obvious questions are: What can happen?  What can I do?  And how will it affect my life as a New Yorker?  Well most of the answers are pretty straight forward.  Over the next few posts I plan on giving you the worst case scenario, and also offer you advice to help you and your family with your planning.

     Having grown up on a beach in NJ, and being an all around ‘beach bum’ in my youth, I definitely have a good grasp on hurricanes.  When your childhood home is located on a barrier island that has been wiped clean in the past, you tend to pay attention to hurricane preparation.  We may not have a track record of places like Florida in the city, but it is definitely a possibility and has been a reality for NYC many times in the past.  How often is besides the point right now though because it's coming.

     New York is an island, making it a wonderfully natural port and the reason it has been such a successful city for so many years.  Not only that, but we are protected from many storm surges (Quick explanation is when the wind blows the surface water hard enough, it forces large quantities to be moved to that location.) because we sit in from the coast.  As the map here shows, we are protected from the open ocean because of where Manhattan sits in relation to the outer burrows and NJ.  This is a wonderful thing for most storms, but hurricanes are not most storms.  If a storm surge is large and blowing hard enough against the shore line it causes massive flooding.  Because of where the island sits, a massive funnel effect happens as the surge blows into the channels flooding all low lying areas along the water line.  The water then recedes very slowly because of the small space it has to recede through.  So what that means for us is flooding all over the low lying areas of Manhattan as you might have guessed.  Lower Manhattan, some lower areas along the rivers, the low lying areas of Brooklyn including Dumbo, Greenpoint, and areas of Long Island City as this map here shows.  Besides the obvious flooding damage to buildings and subways, which will be a disaster in its own right, the biggest problem that can affect the city as a whole is our power grid.  Our wonderful power line free skyline is made possible by the fact that we use a ground cable system.  Great for winter snow and ice storms, not so great for flooding.  Flooding is NYC’s Achilles heel.  When salt water and electric lines mix, they don’t play nice.  In fact the salt water completely destroys the cables and they have to be replaced.  If flooding got bad enough, our entire grid would be ruined for months.

     Luckily it would have to be a very large storm surge and this is probably not the storm, but it is something to keep in mind.  What I do suggest is that if you live in lower Manhattan, the low lying areas of Queens or Brooklyn and are not prepared for a loss of electricity, and or massive flooding you should consider bugging out (go somewhere else) for the weekend.  There is no reason to ‘ride out the storm’ if you don’t have to.  If you have nowhere else to go, you need to make sure you have clean water and food in sealed containers.  Sanitation could also be a problem, I have written a post on the subject that you can read here.  I will be going over preps in the next post to help you as well. 

     The next ‘planning flaw’ the city suffers from is the way wind gets tunneled through our streets and avenues because of large buildings.  We all know that standing on certain street corners on a windy day is like standing behind a jet, many a dead umbrella can attest to that.  The problem is that the high rises have changed the wind patterns of nature, in effect causing wind to be funneled through tight spots, very similar to our water channels.  What this means is that a category 1 or 2 hurricane is in essence a 3 or 4 at certain locations all over the city.  That drastic increase in wind can cause large amounts of debris to be thrown all over the place at great speeds.  That debris can break windows, and cause chaos on a grand scale.

     If you are in an apartment that has a bunch of windows, or worse yet all windows, I suggest bugging out.  Get out of the city and go to your second home, a friend’s home, or hotel.  Anywhere but near those windows.  If you live in an apartment with just a few windows, you can tape them up with masking tape if it will make you feel a bit safer.  You can also place a few boards (or take the items off your shelves and use the shelf itself as a board) with a box of nails near the window in case it starts getting hairy outside.  If you don’t have nails and boards, then you can place large furniture in front of the window to stop glass if the window breaks.  If your bed is set up near a window, I suggest moving it to the center of your apartment and sleeping there the night the storm hits.

     Here is a CBSNews video from '06.  It is one of the many warnings we have received from experts over the last few years.  He tells of the pros and cons of our geographic location. 

     And here is another one of those Spike TV Surviving Disaster videos I always suggest on hurricane survival. 

     In my next post, I am going to explain what you can do to prepare.          


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